By Matt Janeczko, OFM Cap.
Growing up, my family always did the best it could to have dinner together. We’d adjust the time as best we could depending on who had a Little League game, who was doing what after school, and what evening appointments my father had scheduled.
As we got older, however, my brothers and me would have more and more difficulty making it on time to meals. Baseball practice would run late; a study group would me; or, more likely, a girlfriend’s study group would run late.
While we waited for Luke or John (or they waited for me) a familiar debate would play out. We’d fight over the last three meatballs, or the last piece of chicken. We’d plead for a couple extra noodles on our plate.
My mother would remain firm: “No, that’s for [fill in the blank of the missing son].” We’d roll our eyes: “but, Mom, if he wanted the food, he should have been here.
“No: he’s just as much a part of this family as you are. And besides, wouldn’t you want us to save you food? In fact, we do save you food.”
Was my mother being unfair?
Is the landowner in this Gospel unfair?
Is God unfair?
Yes. And no. It depends on if we’re the one late to dinner
According to human standards: this is no way to run a business!
The Good News of today’s Gospel, however, is that the Kingdom of God turns a profit when it’s given away, not when it’s saved. God’s grace isn’t placed in an interest bearing account and saved for a rainy day.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus is teaching us about what God’s Kingdom looks like. The words that introduce this Gospel color everything we hear: “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a landowner…”
In other words: the Kingdom of God doesn’t run by the rules that we create or think are logically: rather, they are frustratingly, maddeningly, and completely rules that God makes up.
The first rule of this Kingdom, then, is that God is in charge. God determines the membership: and the rules for membership are not based on merit. Rather, God calls when and how and who in a way that only he knows.
The second rule of the Kingdom is that there is nothing we can do to earn a greater place: coming early, coming late, God is in a constant process of calling us to this new way of life.
And the third rule: no one is forced into God’s kingdom. We may come early or come late, but the most important thing we learn from today’s parable is that Jesus calls all of us: but the only way to be a part of the great feast the Lord prepares is to respond.
Put in another way, God will always save us food, but we need to show up at the table. The time at which the workers arrived to help the landowner in the harvest does not matter as much to God as to whether or not they showed up.
And all of us here today: we’re in the process of being called into this relationship with God – this generous landowner.
Being called into this new way of being, however, is not without its risks. To be a member of the Kingdom isn’t a guarantee of an easy pathway: actually, it may be considered a guarantee of quite something else.
It’s like the great Theresa of Avila, who, being deep in prayer and being thrown from a horse, is said to have yelled at the Lord, “And this is why you have so few friends!”
To be called into the Kingdom means to set as our goal the same thing as Saint Paul: “to magnify Christ Jesus.” Indeed, to be laborers, to be freely called and gifted, means that God asks us to magnify the Kingdom: to through our prayer, through our love, through our forgiveness, point out just what God is up to in the world.
Because we have been called, we must magnify God’s unfairness: his overwhelming love, his foolish forgiveness, and his incredible presence among us.
And, in all this, most especially, we are called to invite the ones who are most forgotten into this Kingdom. In other words, let’s not just save some food for them – let’s make sure they know they’re invited to the meal.